Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse to reintroduce CORE Act

With Democrats in control, lawmakers are renewing push to pass sweeping public lands bill

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse meet at the Coon Hill trailhead on the west side of the Eisenhower Tunnel in Dillon on Sept. 4 to discuss the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act. The pair has joined with Sen. John Hickenlooper to reintroduce the bill.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

EAGLE — Nearly a year ago, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet visited Camp Hale, the famed World War II training site of the 10th Mountain Division between Leadville and Red Cliff in Eagle County.

There, he met with members of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment — known as the Triple Deuce — to take in the fresh mountain air on a cloudless day in the High Country. They went snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and paid homage to the brave 10th veterans who fought in the Italian Alps during some of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Those World War II veterans then returned stateside to help found the modern ski industry.

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Bennet, newly elected U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents Summit County, joined on a call to announce the reintroduction of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a massive public lands bill that has been in the works for over a decade.

As the Democratic lawmakers again take up the bill in Congress, modern 10th Mountain Division veteran Mike Greenwood issued a challenge to remember the legacy of those World War II soldiers.

“Those men would not give up,” he said on the call. “Those men would keep charging. Those men would find a way to make it happen. I challenge Congress to find a way to make it happen. Don’t give up. Get this thing passed.”

A decade in the making

If the CORE Act is to finally become law, after more than 10 years of revisions and exhaustive feedback from constituents, the time is now, with Democrats in control in the Senate and Joe Biden in the White House.

The bill would protect over 400,000 acres of public land in the state, establish new wilderness, recreation and conservation areas, and protect Camp Hale as a first-of-its-kind National Historic Landscape. Included in the package are protections covering portions of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, the Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison, the Thompson Divide southwest of Glenwood Springs and the Continental Divide surrounding Camp Hale.

Hickenlooper, who beat incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in November’s election to help Democrats flip the Senate, agreed with his colleagues that the time has come to pass a piece of legislation that has a broad coalition of support.

“I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said. “I think it will take a lot of talking and a lot of work. It is so unusual to have a bill where the county commissioners, Republican and Democrat, agree that the land in their county that’s part of this bill should be protected in this manner. Every one of these county commissioners supported it. When I’ve been saying that to Republicans and Democrats here, I’ve gotten initially positive responses. Now, obviously, I’m new to the Senate, but I’ve learned one thing, and that’s that nothing is for sure. There are no layups.”

Bennet said he’s optimistic that the bill will get a vote on the Senate floor this year, either as its own bill or in a package of public lands bills. In the previous Congress, Neguse was the bill’s main sponsor in the House, where it passed twice, only for the legislation to be stifled in the previously Republican-controlled Senate. Gardner said he wouldn’t support the bill as written, and the Trump administration had threatened to veto the bill if it ever passed both houses of Congress.

“I really think the American people are tired of the dysfunction in Washington, and I think that they expect us to move the country’s business forward,” Bennet said. “That has not been what we have been doing for the last four years, and this is very, very high on my list of priorities. I know it’s very high on Sen. Hickenlooper’s, as well. We’re going to look for the earliest opportunity to pass it.”

Mike Greenwood, from left, Sen. Michael Bennet and Craig Caulder tour Camp Hale on Feb. 22 to promote the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which would designate the former World War II-era military training camp as the first National Historic Landscape.
Photo by Chris Dillmann / Vail Daily

Among those previously voting against the bill in the House were Colorado Reps. Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, all Republicans. Tipton lost to newcomer Lauren Boebert in the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses the western portion of Colorado. Most of the protected lands in the CORE Act are in Boebert’s district, and Boebert made it clear during her campaign to defeat Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush that she wasn’t in support of the bill in its current form.

That said, Bennet was confident that the bill would find bipartisan support in the House and would face its greatest challenge in the Senate, where Democrats hold a deciding vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to break a 50-50 tie.

“The biggest enemy of any smart piece of legislation is dysfunction in the Senate,” Bennet said. “That’s what we have to find a way to overcome.”

“I believe there has never been a public lands bill in Colorado that has had as much public process or public buy-in as this bill,” he added. “And people understand that it’s critically important to pass it, both for the conservation values that it reflects but also for Colorado’s economy.”

Neguse said he is committed to getting the bill passed to honor the legacy of the veterans who trained at Camp Hale.

He then mentioned Sandy Treat, the beloved Vail icon and 10th Mountain Division veteran, who Neguse said he got to know well before Treat died in September 2019.

“He was a wonderful man, who when he was alive, provided unwavering advocacy in the effort to forever maintain Camp Hale as a National Historic Landscape,” Neguse said. “He worked so hard, and I distinctly remember talking to him in April 2019 in Summit County, visiting with him and telling him we were going to make the CORE Act a reality. The passage of the bill would honor his wish.”

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